Alleged assault raises safety concerns at Copper Ridge Place

Sarah couldn't cry for help when the man slid his hand under her blanket and down her underwear. The 54-year-old woman has severe Down syndrome and wasn't able to defend herself.

Sarah couldn’t cry for help when the man slid his hand under her blanket and down her underwear.

The 54-year-old woman has severe Down syndrome and wasn’t able to defend herself.

The alleged sexual assault, witnessed by a staff member, happened at Copper Ridge Place on July 14 around 9 p.m., less than six weeks after Sarah (not her real name) arrived at the facility.

Before moving into Copper Ridge, Sarah lived with her sister Liesel Briggs for 11 years.

Briggs was also caring for their 90-year-old mother, who had been Sarah’s primary caregiver until she could no longer care for herself.

“It got to the point where we were sleeping with baby monitors by the bed,” said Briggs.

Sarah couldn’t even go to the bathroom alone.

“For the last couple years it was pretty much 24/7,” she said.

Briggs didn’t want to put her sister in the home, but when her family doctor told her it was taking too much of a toll on Briggs’ health, she caved.

“I hit a wall, I was just exhausted,” she said.

Relieved her sister was in a “safe environment” at Copper Ridge, Briggs was able to go on holiday with her family for the first time in more than a decade.

Rested and happy, she returned to an answering machine flashing with messages. One was from a nurse at Copper Ridge asking her to come in for a meeting.

“I walked in and sat down and it was like being blindsided,” said Briggs, who was told about the assault.

“I just couldn’t believe it, she’d only been here six weeks.”

Sarah had deteriorated following the assault, said Briggs.

She was having more seizures and spending more time in a silent, confused stupor.

Copper Ridge staff informed Briggs the man had been moved out of her sister’s unit and was under one-on-one supervision.

But the next time she came to visit, he rolled by them in the hallway and gave Sarah a look that made Briggs’ skin crawl.

“That’s when I realized they weren’t doing enough; he shouldn’t still be there,” she said.

The police are now involved with the case.

But staff at Copper Ridge didn’t report the incident until July 21 – eight days after the assault took place, according to RCMP Sgt. Tom Wyers.

The investigation is now complete, he said. “And we’re working with the Crown to determine whether charges will be laid.”

Briggs learned that the man had also been involved in an incident in 2005 at Copper Ridge that raised “red flags with staff,” she said.

Staff at Copper Ridge told Briggs the facility wasn’t built for sexual or high-risk offenders.

“So why are they there?” she asked.

Briggs waited a long time before going public.

Through August and September she spent a lot of time with her sister, “who was not doing well.

“She’d sit in bed with her hands over her face,” she said.

“You look after someone for 11 years then you find a place where you think they will be safe and suddenly you realize they’re not safe … you just pull your hair and think What could I have done?

“And of course you feel guilty.”

At the beginning of September, Briggs sent a letter to Copper Ridge extended care director Willy Shippey asking what precautions the facility was considering, to prevent future assaults.

She didn’t get a response.

So, on Monday, she made the letter public.

“I wanted to wait and be respectful,” she said.

“But I kept thinking about all the other (Sarahs) out there that need to be protected.”

Briggs wants to know why the alleged offender is not in a secure area, pending the RCMP investigation.

Copper Ridge has a secure wing, said Health spokesperson Pat Living on Thursday.

“But it is only for patients suffering dementia.”

The man was not in the dementia unit, which suggests he was well aware of his actions.

Briggs also suggested Copper Ridge install security cameras.

Right now, the only camera on the premises is outside the front door, said Living.

“There is no surveillance inside the building.”

And Briggs wants to know why potential residents don’t have to undergo a criminal-record check.

“Even if someone does have a criminal record, where do you draw the line?” said Living.

“We’re the only game in town.

“And we can’t refuse to provide care under the human rights act.”

But when pressed, Living admitted not all clients are accepted at Copper Ridge.

“On rare occasions, clients with medical or behavioural problems are considered for placements Outside,” she said.

“But only if we can’t manage to care for them within the facility.”

Living couldn’t speak to the recent assault at Copper Ridge because of “patient confidentiality,” she said.

But Briggs learned the man was moved elsewhere.

She didn’t know where, until she visited Whitehorse General Hospital with her daughter and saw him cruising the main foyer in his wheelchair a few weeks ago.

“Sometimes people are moved places because of assessments or medical needs,” said Living.

“But that doesn’t mean they can’t come back into the facility.”

If necessary, Copper Ridge can provide one-on-one monitoring, said Living.

“But it’s rare.”

Copper Ridge has policies and procedures, and carries out ongoing assessments on its residents, she said.

“And we work hard to ensure people in our care are protected.

“I have every confidence our facilities are safe,” said Living.

“But that’s not to say that from time to time things don’t happen.”

Briggs doesn’t want the incident “swept under the rug.”

And she doesn’t want her sister’s assailant back under the same roof.

Briggs has been requesting meetings with the Health minister since August, but all she received was a phone message telling her to go to victim services, according to Briggs’ letter.

“People with families in continuing care should feel confident that they are being safely looked after,” wrote Briggs.

Sarah “is a vulnerable person.

“However, she is not the only vulnerable woman or man in continuing care.”

It’s not easy putting a family member into care, she said.

“And when you do make that decision, you want to do so with confidence.

“But I can no longer say I have that confidence.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Former CEO of Great Canadian Gaming, actress charged after flying to Beaver Creek for COVID-19 vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Are they coming?

One of COVID-19’s big economic questions is whether it will prompt a… Continue reading

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate members Bill Bennett, community engagement coordinator and Mobile Therapeutic Unit team lead, left, and Katherine Alexander, director of policy and analytics, speak to the News about the Mobile Therapeutic Unit that will provide education and health support to students in the communities. (yfned.ca)
Mobile Therapeutic Unit will bring education, health support to Indigenous rural students

The mobile unit will begin travelling to communities in the coming weeks

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Most Read